Eucla – connecting east and west

Eucla Telegraph Station

The Eucla telegraph station was particularly important because prior to Federation in 1901, South Australia and Victoria used American Morse code, whereas the rest of the country used International Morse Code. So the station was staffed by both South Australian and Western Australian telegraphists – separated by a barrier across the telegraph table which held the equipment.

South Australian telegraphists transcribed messages from that State and passed them through holes in the barrier, to Western Australian telegraphists who translated the messages into international morse code for delivery to the West – and vice versa. With a sense of ceremony, the barrier was taken down in 1901 following Federation. But it could easily have remained in place. When the Federation was drawn up in the Constitution, Western Australia was not keen to join, whereas New Zealand was written in (later crossed out) and Western Australia was given the option to join at a later date should it so choose.

The Eucla station was first opened on 8 December 1877. At its height in 1927, more than 600 messages a day were passed across the single copper line. The station closed in 1929 when a new line was erected along the trans-continental railway. By 1927, Australia was the 7th most wired nation in the world – which says something about our human need to communicate, and overcome our isolation.

Eucla Telegraph Station

The State of Victoria installed Australia’s first telegraph cable system as early as 1855 – just 11 years after Samuel Morse invented his famous dot-dash code. and Australia joined the international telegraph network in 1872 – an early adopter of the electric telegraph.

The Eucla station was particularly important because prior to Federation in 1901, South Australia and Victoria used American Morse code, whereas the rest of the country used International Morse Code. South Australian telegraphists transcribed messages from that State and passed them through holes in a barrier on the telegraph table, separating them from the Western Australian telegraphists who translated the messages into international morse code for delivery to the West – and vice versa. The barrier was taken down in 1901 following Federation. But it could easily have remained in place. When the Federation was drawn up in the Constitution, Western Australia was not keen to join, whereas New Zealand was written in (later crossed out) and Western Australia was given the option to join at a later date should it so choose.

Early Eucla telegraphists
Eucla telegraphists 1898 (image photographed at Eucla Museum)

Plagues of rabbits

After plagues of rabbits in the 1890s and a subsequent plague of cats (introduced to deal with the rabbits) the damage to the vegetation holding the sand dunes together was complete and shifting sand drifts further complicated the lives of those keeping the telegraph station in operation.

Finally, in 1927 with the advent of automatic repeater technology, the coastal telegraph station was closed down leaving the buildings to the mercy of the sand dunes.

Eucla Telegraph Station
Eucla Telegraph Station

Eucla Museum

Eucla itself comprises a roadhouse, two motels a museum and the old Telegraph Station – but it is well worth visiting the museum and telegraph station ruins as they tell a fascinating story of Australia’s communication economy and history. The museum is open 24 hours a day and operates on an honour system.

telecommunications equipment Eucla Museum
telecommunications equipment Eucla Museum

The wind-the-handle handsets were still in use in the one public phone box there in 1976 – I used one to call my place of work in Adelaide to let them know I had been delayed. The call was sent via Kalgoorlie Exchange where they still used human telephone operators to make the connection via a manual switchboard. They would time the call and at the end you were asked to put in the right number of coins. In this case the operator must’ve heard my plight and claimed she hadn’t switched on the timer so the the call was free – I really appreciated that act of generosity at the time – and hope she didn’t get into trouble over it.

Many earlier drivers have broken down in the vicinity – it is a psychologically challenging road today, but there are reminders that the road takes a physical toll on vehicles too.

ute wreck

Eucla is also home to another signpost to the rest of Australia

Eucla signpost

And a ‘Big’ Whale – which is actually quite small as whales go…

Big Whale

In light of the UK drifting away from Europe, perhaps one day they will need a sign to guide them… 🙂

EU sign

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